Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) a long-time defender of public
broadcasting and Big Bird, followed up on his live tweeting of the first
presidential debate Wednesday night (Oct. 3) with a statement that Mitt Romney
was "robbing Big Bird to pay Big Oil."
said during the debate: "I'm sorry, Jim [Lehrer of PBS NewsHour]. I'm going to stop the
subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I
actually like you too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on
spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it."
The president did not respond to that threat.
Many Republicans have been emboldened to press their
long-standing effort to cut back or defund public broadcasting -- seeing it,
for one thing, as a home of liberal critics of their policies -- after the president's
own advisory commission on cutting the deficit recommended
phasing out public broadcasting funding as one of the hard choices that
might have to be made. Following that recommendation, PBS conducted a study
last year showing that the vast majority of people surveyed, including a
majority of both Democrats and Republicans, oppose
eliminating funding for public broadcasting.
Markey almost immediately tweeted the following:
.@MittRomney loves #BigBird but its #BigOil that gets his affection. $40b in
tax breaks 4 oil co's but cut @PBS.
On Wednesday, Markey's office issued a statement. "Mitt
Romney says he loves Big Bird but its Big Oil that gets his affection. In a
budgetary blow to children and parents everywhere, Mitt Romney would take an
axe to PBS while shielding billions in taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies.
Mitt Romney's budget priority is to protect $40 billion in subsidies for the
most profitable oil companies on the planet but put an end to Elmo's World."
Steve Rendall, senior analyist at media watchdog group FAIR, was troubled by Romney's statement. "It's a disturbing spectacle when a journalist moderating a debate between two politicians is reminded by one that he has the power to cut off [his] funding," he said in reaction to the debate, according to the Institute for Public Accuracy.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes
the average 15% of noncom station budgets that comes from the government, had
no comment at presstime on Romney's threatened cut.. The Association of Public Television Stations did weight in.
"Americans by the millions are going on social media today to protest the elimination of federal funding for public broadcasting because they recognize that this funding is essential to the survival and success of non-commercial, educational public service media in America," said APTS President Patrick Butler. "Government and independent studies have also made this clear."